Peacetime at home

Even if you can't afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

Even if you can’t afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

This post is written in response to Kozo’s June Peace Challenge at Everyday Gurus, to write about maintaining peace at home.

In our hectic lives when every minute of the waking day seems to be filled with work, chores, to-do lists and regrets about so few items on those lists we’ve crossed off,  sometimes we forget that relentlessly, every minute, time is passing us by.

We often neglect relationships with the people closest to us in the pursuit of making those very people’s lives better: trying to make more money to buy them more things, trying to achieve what we suppose are life’s goals.

Yet on our death beds, we will never be glad we made more money, spent more hours working, bought more stuff or cleaned the house more often. We might, however, regret not spending more time on just being with those we love, listening to them and facilitating peace between us.

It’s so important to replenish, rejuvenate and find a sense of joy and peace in our lives, without feeling guilty for taking time out.

I’ve compiled a list of six things I think are important to promote a sense of well being, peace and inner health: I am not saying I follow these things all the time. Too often, I too forget that the world won’t collapse if I don’t meet a deadline.

1. Recycle some stuff you don’t need. There’s something cathartic about de-cluttering your house, and even better if that stuff can go to a good cause and your trash can be someone else’s treasure.

2. Read inspiring novels. Great books teach us empathy, something that is sorely missing in this society that sees angry people constantly tooting horns, pushing in front of each other, and discriminating against their fellow people. Read the classics: anything by Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; read recent novels—anything by Mitch Albom, for example; read historical novels such as March by Geraldine Brooks.

3. Take a vacation, or holiday, as we call it in Australia. Of course, not everyone can afford to actually go away on vacation to an exotic tropical beach, but you could take a holiday at home, even if it’s only over a weekend. A holiday at home means you vow to do no work—not even housework—on those days; it means the majority of every day is relaxing and enjoyable—read a book, watch a movie with your family, make a picnic lunch, lie in bed reading the newspaper.

4. Be a tourist in your own city, and visit the art galleries, museums, or other places of culture you’ve been meaning to see. Go to a live theatre show, particularly if you’ve never been to one before. Small, independent theatre companies desperately need your support and can often be surprisingly affordable.

5. Contact a friend you’ve been neglecting because you’re always too busy. If we don’t keep working at friendships, they are in danger of fading away. And even if this is the sort of person you know you could pick up with again at any time, it’s sad to get out of touch and miss the events, big and small, that are important in each other’s lives.

6. Go for a walk and get to know your neighbourhood. We spend so much time at our computers, in our cars, sitting in the train or bus, that we forget to walk. I walk most days, and often towards dusk, I pass an elderly Greek couple sitting on the veranda of their neat-as-a-pin house overlooking their carefully tended garden. We nod and chat now, even though our conversations are limited by a language barrier. But no matter, we mean each other well. On another street, there’s an old black and white cat who suns himself every afternoon on the warm concrete path outside the apartment where he lives. Then there’s an old man who looks about 90, who rides an ancient bicycle to and from the shops every day. There are all sorts of modes of transport round our neigbourhood: the other day, I saw a young man casually riding a unicycle along the street. Every day, I notice something I have never seen before.

For more on establishing and maintaining a peaceful home, check out blogger Julianne Victoria’s inspirations at Through the Peacock’s Eyes, and to discover what ducks have to do with peace, see the blog My Little Spacebook.

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My sentimental journey

Space is at a premium in our house. When we married, we blended two households. Well three, actually, since I had both city and beach residences. We are lucky to rent a three-bedroom unit—most are two bedrooms, so we have the luxury of a study each.

We both had lifelong collections of books; archives of clippings from our long careers as journalists; music collections; clothes we thought might fit us again one day; memorabilia from many travels. A couple of years ago, I copied all my CDs to my computer, then took most of those CDs to the op shop. Cassettes had been thrown out by 2006.

There’s a problem, though: sometimes, I throw out the wrong thing. Many years ago, I discarded all my notes from journalism school and all my assignments from my bachelor’s degree. Now that I am a tertiary educator—something that when I was young, I would never have imagined myself—I would be interested to read them again as artifacts of a generation ago. Mind you, would I have wanted to cart them between three countries and 25 addresses? Not really. Now I’m looking at the three massive tomes in my bookcase that are copies of my PhD thesis. You have to submit quite a few, but you get the two examiners’ copies back. I don’t want them, and neither does anyone else! But it seems wrong, somehow, just to bin them. Perhaps I should use the blank backs of the pages for drawing practice.

Often, you save things for posterity because you think your children might be interested in them when they themselves have children. But if you don’t have children, there seems little point. For example, I recently went through and culled my clippings from three decades: the only person in the long-term future who will be interested in reading my old published stories is me! So I kept only the ones that interest me.

Souvenirs

Just because you don’t still have the souvenir, doesn’t mean you don’t have the memory. I have a collection of snow domes from my travels, but I throw them out when they lose their water. I also collect books and ornaments depicting mermaids, and I bought this retro reproduction from a great vintage shop in Hawaii about 10 years ago. They are salt and pepper shakers!

Poor little mermaid: damaged ornaments with no sentimental value have to go.

Poor little mermaid: damaged ornaments with no sentimental value have to go.

Recently though, when I was cleaning the shelf they sit on, I accidentally knocked the set over and the nose of the mermaid chipped off. It’s always been a difficult set, because there is nothing to hold the mermaid and seahorse together and the mermaid doesn’t stand on its own, so you couldn’t really use them as salt and pepper shakers at a table. So they must go: they have gone. But I have this photo, so I won’t forget them.

What to do with broken stuff
I have two elephant bells that I bought in Chiang Mai in 1991, while I was living in Thailand. The bells are mounted on wooden frames so you can sit them on a shelf. About 10 years ago, one of these flimsy frames broke. I always meant to fix it, but didn’t, and now, some of the pieces of wood have been lost. I realised this week that I will NEVER fix it. Out goes the old frame. I’ve kept the bell itself, which has become a handy doorstop. Meanwhile, the other one’s frame is fine and I’ve put it back on display in my living room (it had been hiding in the hall behind a set of golf clubs).

The remaining framed elephant bell. The other bell, minus its frame, is now a perfect doorstop.

The remaining framed elephant bell. The other bell, minus its frame, is now a perfect doorstop.

Stuff that’s not broken
It used to be that you’d never throw out something that wasn’t broken; even if it was broken, you’d try to fix it first, or keep some bits that might be useful.
We have 15 coffee mugs and about 30 wine glasses, plus probably 20 other specialty glasses. For the two of us. I don’t think we need that many. These glasses take up an entire cupboard, two shelves, plus another small shelf. We don’t have a big kitchen.

Crayon Files

Do two people really need this many glasses? And this is not counting the special set from Venice or the martini glasses more often used for shrimp cocktails.

It seems wrong to throw out glasses when they are perfectly good, but we have to do it. We plan to cull them shortly. I reckon six wine glasses is enough for a household of two. I always use the same one, anyway. And six tumblers should be ample, don’t you think?

Sheets and towels
I recently counted our towels and found that we had 13 sets—for two people. Now, colour coding aside (Mr Style-Master likes everything to match), two people do not need 26 towels, 26 face washers and 26 hand towels. There is no linen cupboard in our house, so the Style-Master had to make one and it takes up a whole corner of his study.

Two people need two towels for the bathroom, two for the wash, and two for the cupboard. We could accommodate no more than two house guests at a time, so that’s another two of each. That’s a maximum of eight towels needed, or four sets. Thirteen sets is excessive and we are getting rid of the old ones. Well, some of them.

Photo albums
Remember when people used to put photo albums together of their travels and special events? Mine were complete with typed captions and dates. You would have an album or two on the coffee table so guests could view your most recent trip. But people don’t do this any more. They have electronic photo frames that continuously rotate the photos. And everyone travels these days, so people are not that interested in your snapshots. Even if they don’t travel, they can view any place they like via Google. They don’t need you to show them.
I once had about 10 big albums. They were one of my favourite things. Now, as I dismantle those albums and digitise the images that matter,  I look back and see excess. Yes, I travelled on the Glacier Express train across the Swiss Alps. But I don’t need 100 photos of the journey, icy peak by icy peak. Twenty would be plenty. I used to take loads of pictures in the days of analogue cameras because you couldn’t tell how good the shots were until you had the film developed. I would always be thinking in terms of taking photos for publication, as I used to be a travel writer.
I do still keep the best prints from the old days, but I no longer ever bring them out to show visitors. My visitors no doubt thank me for that.

Sentimentality
In my view, this is a valid reason for keeping some things you no longer use, or that are even broken. My mother has a lot of things from when my brothers were young (in different decades). My first brother was killed in a road accident in 1981; my second brother is now married and lives in the US. So I can understand why she holds on to the books, soft toys, games and so on. Each one has a special memory attached.

Mum also kept a lot of my things that, as a young person, I would have thrown out. I left home at 17, not taking much with me and definitely not wanting to be loaded with childish possessions. Mum recently gave me back some birthday cards I’d treasured as a child, my old music box, some primary school assignments I did and a postcard sent to me by my late father a long time ago (which will be the subject of an upcoming post). I’m really glad now that she saved them all this time, across two countries and five house moves.

My life in TV

Going, going, gone: some of my old TV Week clippings that I don't need any more.

Going, going, gone: some of my old TV Week clippings that I don’t need any more.

You know how an old song can conjure up images of where you were in the past when that song was popular? I have the same memories when I see old TV programs. I was an entertainment journalist from the 1980s to the 2000s, and browsing through my clippings file is like a walk through the history of Australian and New Zealand television and associated events in my own life.

I worked for Australia’s then-most popular entertainment magazine, TV Week, from 1989-1990 and from 1993-1997, becoming assistant editor in 1994. I kept all my clippings—probably about 1000 articles—from that time, and a fair few of the magazines intact, particularly the editions for which I was acting editor.

After my father died in 2006, my mother gave me their collection of seven years’ worth of TV Weeks that I had written for. This collection took up eight drawers in my home office.

Recently, I’ve been trying to streamline my household and get rid of stuff I don’t wear, don’t read, don’t look at, don’t need. As the Canadian writer Fransi Weinstein said in her blog Three Hundred Sixty-Five this month, it’s about “living simpler”.

So, some of those old TV Week magazines had to go. As journalists, we were taught from the beginning to keep all our clippings. They are a record of your work and you need them when you apply for a new job.

Today, however, no one would be interested in my clippings from so long ago. And if I need clippings for a job application, I have more recent ones that I can simply provide a website link to.

I don’t have children, so there’s no sense that I would need to keep something for posterity. Yet, always before when I’ve tried to cull this collection, I’ve become lost in sentimentality and nostalgia, and have ended up putting the mags back in the drawers.

Not this time, though. Last weekend, I got rid of 60% of the magazines in the eight drawers, plus about half of my clippings, keeping only the more notable among them. I also threw out lots of clippings from my work as a news reporter in the 1980s, again keeping only the important ones.

Now I have extra storage space in which I can accrue more stuff.